FF accuses Govt of treating public 'like children' after concerns over property tax changes ignored

Darragh O'Brien.

Fianna Fáil has accused the Government of “treating the public like children” after new documents revealed the cabinet ignored the attorney general’s concerns over delaying any local property tax changes.

Fianna Fáil housing spokesperson Darragh O’Brien hit out at the Government decision to delay, insisting it is just about saving votes in the local and European elections, as he claimed cabinet is either “divided or inept” on the issue.

The Irish Examiner yesterday published a detailed cabinet memo outlining serious concerns raised by attorney general Seamus Woulfe over the decision to delay making any decision on local property tax changes for a number of months.

The April 2 memo set out five options the Government could take on whether to increase local property tax in certain areas.

However, it also noted that Mr Woulfe had raised serious concerns about deferring any decision — an option ultimately chosen by the Government — due to three reasons, namely:

  • Concerns up to 80,000 households exempt from local property tax due to a 2012 act could potentially take legal action, with Mr Woulfe noting “arguably, [any delay] could create an appearance of arbitrariness that could give rise to a challenge from a disgruntled liable person”;
  • A prediction that delaying any decision could see the State lose up to €250m in taxpayers’ money in a single year;
  • And questions over whether any deferred changes would be in line with the constitution

After the Government confirmed last week it is making no decision for now on whether to increase local property tax, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe insisted it was not about protecting key Fine Gael votes in the lead up to next month’s local and European elections.

However, Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien yesterday hit out at the claim, saying the leaked cabinet memo shows the cabinet decision went against the attorney general’s advice - saying there is “no other explanation” for the move other than election fears.

“There can’t be any other explanation that can be believable, this is about the elections,” Mr O’Brien said.

“The way this tax currently works is unfair. Everyone agrees that, so it does need to be altered. But cabinet appears to have ignored that and just kicked it down the road.

If they say it is not about the election then there is either massive division in the cabinet, or it is completely and utterly inept on this.

“I would have thought if the attorney general says there are concerns about deferring they should be heard. But they haven’t willingly produced those options to be debated.

“They’re treating most of the public like children on this, it’s mad stuff,” he said.

While changes to the local property tax may help some parts of the country, they risk causing difficulties for a number of parties in the lead up to the local and European elections next month, and potentially the next general election.

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